A better world

A better world

By Holly Ponton, Capacity Building Manager
September 15, 2016

Our Raising the Bar conference is coming up in just a few weeks, providing teachers, clinicians, and other youth-serving professionals with an opportunity to strategize for the future of youth sexual health. We’ll discuss LGBT inclusivity, trauma-informed approaches, how to incorporate an understanding of technology into sex ed, and much more. In short, we’ll come together and dream up how to make the world better for youth – and then we’ll return to our communities and strive to make those strategies a reality.

And in the spirit of Raising the Bar, let’s dream big – really, really big. Because what if sex ed could prevent violence – not just domestic or intimate partner violence, but all kinds of violence? What if it could hinder prejudice, cruelty, fear of difference – what if it could change the entire world?

Here’s the thing about sexual health education: the stakes are very high. And the reason for that is that at its fundamental core, sexual health education is about two things: how we treat our own bodies, and how we treat other people’s bodies. Our relationships to our bodies and other people’s bodies affects every single facet of human life. It affects how we walk through the world, our daily interactions with friends, family, acquaintances, strangers. It affects which bodies we respect, and which we don’t; which we attempt to control, and which we leave unregulated. At its darkest level, it affects who we believe is deserving of violence.

We see this violence against certain people, certain bodies, every day. Think of the violence against transgender people. The mere existence of their bodies is a perceived threat to an outdated understanding of what bodies are allowed to be, how bodies are allowed to present. Because they don’t fall neatly into an unrealistically simplified binary, their bodies are under assault. Think of the huge prevalence of sexual violence, and look no further than Brock Turner, the Stanford student who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. He was released from prison after only serving 3 months of an already laughable 6-month sentence. He raped her because he perceived her body as less worthy than his; he got away with it because the judge agreed.

There was the Orlando shooting, and all of the shootings that have happened since, police brutality against communities of color, the depressingly high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault among women, numbers that are even higher for LGBT and disabled communities… These realities exist because at some point our society deemed that some bodies, generally the bodies of the marginalized, are less valuable than others – that they are less deserving of respect, and in turn that they are more deserving of violence.

What if we could change that?

Imagine a future where all youth, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, physical/mental abilities, and where they live in the world had access to comprehensive sexual health education. Imagine that all sex ed curricula were K-12 and explicitly discussed bodily autonomy – the concept that your body is your own and no one has any right to it, and that the same is true for other people.

Imagine a world where all children grew up learning that everybody (or, as it were, every “body”) is equally valuable and worthy of love and respect.

Imagine how the world could change.

This vision is an ideal, and ideals are hard to come by in the real world. But it’s closer than it’s ever been before. And the reason it’s closer is because the state of sexual health education is only getting better. Conversations are happening in our nation that are acknowledging on a broader level that yes, sex ed is about HIV, STI, and teen pregnancy prevention, but it’s also about so much more than that. Schools in the United States are starting to implement K-12 sex ed programs, like the 3Rs curriculum, that focus on respecting our own bodies and how to respect others’ bodies. National dialogues around gender non-conformity and sexual orientation are growing more and more understanding, more effective, and more respectful. And we’re acknowledging that teaching pleasure in sex ed is crucial to helping youth understand consent.

We still have a long way to go before we reach that better world, but we’re on the path. We just have to keep moving forward, keep believing that it’s possible – a world where all bodies, all people, are equal. A world of respect. It may seem out of reach now, but the first step is to recognize that sex ed does have this potential, that it could be so much more. So as we meet for Raising the Bar this year and dive into our visions for the future of sex ed, let’s keep this one in mind: the vision that the work we do around youth sexual health could literally change the world.

For more information on Raising the Bar, click here.